I have been reading books since the age of 4. I wouldn’t say all of them changed my life, but reading, in general, has shaped my life in countless ways, and continues to do so.
While I have read many, many books over the last 30 years, there were several that immediately came to mind when I started to think about this post. Books that have profoundly moved me in one way or another, and since I can’t choose only one, I’m going to share a few. And by no means is this a definitive list. I’m sure, once I hit the “publish” and “share” buttons, I’ll think of a book I’ll wish I had included.
The first book that I remember….ever….was called (I think), Tell Me a Story. My mom used to read it to me. Every. Night. It was just a repetitive children’s book with each illustration showing a picture of a parent animal (I remember bears and alligators) and a child animal and each one would say to the parent, “Tell me a story.” I can still hear my mother’s inflection as she read that line a thousand times during my childhood. That book changed my life. Because it was consistency to me. Repetition is something most children like at one age or another. It gives them a feeling of security. That bedtime story was mine. It may also be the reason I have control issues…. Who knows? But in any case, thanks Mom!
Another book that changed my life is an obvious one: the Bible. These ancient texts are mysterious, cryptic in places, and have been the backbone for a religion that I have subscribed to all of my life. I have found words of hope, inspiration, and encouragement. I have also found frightening and confusing passages. I have studied it. I have meditated on it. I have sat through lectures and sermons on it by highly educated theologians and lay ministers alike. I believe it is a living document, one that is highly misunderstood and taken grossly out of context at times, and one that can only and should only be interpreted within context and through the eyes of faith, with the inspirational aid of the Holy Spirit. I have a complicated relationship with the Bible. It’s not that I don’t accept it for what it is. I believe that too many people try to make it what it is not. That’s another discussion for another day, but just know: it’s a book that I continue to read and it is one that continually affects my life.
In that same vein, I have inspirational authors that I love to read. Authors who have written about Scripture, about Christ, about God. In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, A Grief Observed and many others by C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, and Richard Rohr, have shaped my relationship with the Divine.
I love biographies. The Diary of Anne Frank was not a biography so much as well, a diary, but I remember reading it in grade school and it being the first book I ever read that literally brought me to tears. Reagan is reading it for her summer reading project. I’m very interested to see what she thinks about it. This book was one of the first that opened my young eyes about the destructive path of racism and bigotry. I have read different accounts of concentration camp survivors since I read The Diary and I still shudder to think about them. Reading books like that, based on real accounts of a person’s life, remind me that the world is oh so much bigger than my little corner of it. But mercy and love are universal. And should be aspired to by all people.
Real stories about real people can really get into my head and into my heart. Two that I’ve read in recent years are:
Torn by Justin Lee and Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. I’d highly recommend both of them. I read Torn while working on my last Psychology research paper for college. The class was Psychology and Christianity and my paper was on Homosexuality. This book gave me a lot to think about in terms of understanding my gay friends, and opened some really great dialogue with them. As with The Diary of Anne Frank and To Kill a Mockingbird, Torn challenged me to think bigger, and that, I believe, is what a great book should do.
I mentioned To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This controversial and classic book, though in actuality is “fiction”, continued that inner dialogue within my soul about really treating people equally, and trying to understand their point of view. And it wasn’t just the story, it was the way she wrote it. It was the humor, the narrative, the descriptions so vivid I barely had to use my imagination. Because I know what southern summer heat feels like. I know what playing outside with my sibling and friends was like. I have known some Mr. Ewells and some Boo Radleys and some Atticus Finches.
I have many fiction authors that I love and most of the time I love them because of the parallels they draw between their fictional world and the one we actually live in. Truth about the human condition can be found in some of the works by my favorite fiction authors, such as:
Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Maeve Binchy, John Grisham, Ken Follett. I love discovering a new (to me) author. One that has a nice volume of work that I finally discover (usually through the recommendation of someone I know) and I can lose myself in their books for months.
I’ve also loved many a series, in childhood and adulthood:
The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, Pillars of the Earth, Odd Thomas, Nancy Drew, Boxcar Children…..yes, I even read and enjoyed Twilight before the horrendous movies came out and made me hate myself for it.
Books, just books and reading in and of themselves have changed my life because in addition to shaping my conscious, they have released the infinite expanse that is my own imagination. They have taught me how powerful words can be. The written word can inspire or it can incite fear. It can evoke anger, laughter, or tears. It can transport me to another time, or another dimension that only exists in the author’s imagination. I have experienced all of these things through my love affair with books and reading, and it’s an affair I plan to continue for the rest of my life.
I love classic literature, books about science and psychology, inspirational and meditational books, cookbooks, Dr. Seuss books, books of poetry……
I just love to read. Books have been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember, and they continue to teach me about who I want to be.